Ballmer himself acknowledged his decision was abrupt. He added he had originally considered retiring in the middle of the reorganization, but eventually decided "we need a CEO who will be here longer term for this new direction."
"There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time," Ballmer said. "We have embarked on a new strategy with a new organization and we have an amazing Senior Leadership Team. My original thoughts on timing would have had my retirement happen in the middle of our company's transformation to a devices and services company. We need a CEO who will be here longer term for this new direction."
Microsoft's board has appointed a special committee to direct the process. This committee is chaired by John Thompson, the board's lead independent director, and includes Chairman of the Board Bill Gates, Chairman of the Audit Committee Chuck Noski and Chairman of the Compensation Committee Steve Luczo. The special committee is working with Heidrick & Struggles International Inc., a leading executive recruiting firm, and will consider both external and internal candidates.
"The board is committed to the effective transformation of Microsoft to a successful devices and services company," Thompson said. "As this work continues, we are focused on selecting a new CEO to work with the company's senior leadership team to chart the company's course and execute on it in a highly competitive industry."
"As a member of the succession planning committee, I'll work closely with the other members of the board to identify a great new CEO," said Gates. "We're fortunate to have Steve in his role until the new CEO assumes these duties."
Last month Ballmer launched a massive reorganization to reshape Microsoft into a company focused on devices and services, essentially mimicking Apple.
Ballmer has also tripled Microsoft's revenues and more than doubled its profits since he became CEO, but its share price has essentially stayed flat over the last decade, and never came close to the split-adjusted high of $59.97 it reached in late 1999, before the tech stock bubble burst.